Tel Aviv is an anachronism. In a country filled with so much history, the city feels somewhat out of place. In Israel, it’s known as “the bubble”; its self-contained nature leads it to feeling a million miles away from the rest of the country.
With less religious tension, a skyline littered with skyscrapers, a laid back attitude towards homosexuality, and Judaism, and a hedonistic nature: it’s completely at odds with Jerusalem, the country’s capital.
Yafo (Jaffa) is an ancient port with 4,000+ years of history. Situated at the southern end of Tel Aviv, a separate enclave abutted to, rather than an extension of the city, it has more charm than rest of Tel Aviv, with the Old Centre and restaurant lined port a refreshing antidote to the hustle and bustle of the metropolis to the north.
Predominantly Arab, it has a distinctly different vibe from the rest of the city too, where the Muezzin’s call to prayer carries across the sultry Mediterranean air. Best of all, it remains open on Friday nights and Saturday’s when the rest of the city shuts down for Shabbat (Sabbath).
With recent efforts to makeover the Old Centre yielding spectacular results, there’s never been a better time to get lost in the narrow streets and amble through ancient stone archways.
St. Peter’s Church
A Franciscan style catholic church completed in 1894, it’s visible all the way along the shore and received special dispensation to be built facing west i.e. towards Rome. The red brick facade is a pleasant contrast to the white and grey buildings of Tel Aviv.
The adjacent square and stone steps leading to the port, festooned with fairy lights, make for an atmospheric twilit stroll. The views from the road leading up to it offer spectacular views of Tel Aviv’s shore and skyline too.
One of the oldest ports in the world, Jaffa’s harbour is a lovely spot for a relaxed wander or a drink. The boardwalk is lined with cafés, bars and fish restaurants and is often packed with locals.
The Clock tower
Limestone clock tower completed in 1903 to mark 25 years of rule of Sultan Abdulhamid II. This pretty tower is located near Yossi Carmel square, now a traffic choked roundabout. There’s some excellent home furnishing stores nearby.
Jaffa Flea Market
This ramshackle flea market in the heart of the Old City is a beloved institution. Housing boutique designer shops next to the old market stalls which sell everything from typical market tat to vintage clothes and furniture. This eclectic market is also home to cafés and pop-up bars which complete the convivial and lively atmosphere.
First opening its doors in 1879, this historic bakery is open 24 hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week. It has branches in other parts of the city, but this is the original. With a plethora of sweet and savoury options, it’s worth a visit for the decor alone. Beware though; there have been reviews online of tourists being overcharged. Always ask for prices first, and if you feel it’s too expensive, don’t be afraid to walk away.
A meal at Café Puaa is like dining in the world’s most eclectic front room, with a complete mismatch of furniture and decor giving it a “dinner at a friend’s house” vibe. An exciting and varied menu features classics like Mansaf (minced lamb and pine nuts on a bed of rice with yoghurt) and chicken schnitzel and plenty of vegan options. The Robin’s salmon salad is exceptional, as is the home-made Sangria.
Abu Nassar Hinnawi
Deep into Yafo, far away from the tourist trail, Abu Nassar on the Hill is a chophouse restaurant and a quintessential Middle Eastern Experience. Before ordering your main, which include chicken and lamb kebab dishes, the table is completely filled with an assortment of salads and mezze including falafel and hummus, all served with freshly cooked pita breads. Service is shambolic but it’s all part of the charm.
Housed in a warehouse adjacent to the flea market, Cuckoo’s Nest offers a good wine and cocktail menu in a lively and unique setting. With vintage furniture and doubling as an art gallery, it’s an eccentric spot to enjoy a drink (or two). An international vibe and varied playlist make this one-of-a-kind bar a must-visit.
This atmospheric portside restaurant offers outdoor seating overlooking the marina and it’s a great spot for enjoying a cold Goldstar (local beer) and people watching late into the evening.
Thanks for reading,